With just a few weeks left to end the liturgical year as well as the civil year, everyone is watching, waiting and longing for the end of 2020, a year that has reminded all human beings of our vulnerability; a reality we often forget. In the steam of facing the disappointing reality of 2020, it is great to uplift the energy of the young people: children and youth, rallying them around the birth of Christ. There are increased statistics of depression among youth and children because at this stage of growth, their support and strength are drawn from peers, unless the family support system is strong and even then, peers play an essential part which COVID-19 has denied them.
Advent being a time for the preparation of Christ’ coming is a season of hope, wiping away despair, oppression and disappointment. This season can be utilised to revamp hope in our families, especially in the children and youth predicted to be affected more psychologically by the pandemic. With a valuable time, this 2020 as activities have slowed down, families can readily reflect on the importance of life and faith, enjoying the graces the seasons present. Activity points below will keep members engaged till the autumn of Christmas. Develop an Advent calendar. This can be made out of paper chains to show the journey to Christmas. Each night, a family member ticks on the paper with the current date to have a count of the remaining days.
This is a fun way of keeping young people participating in the season as well as waiting with eagerness to celebrate Christmas. Likewise, make Christmas ornaments instead of buying or rather supplement writing different names for Jesus on them.
A family that prays together stays together, keep the fire burning-hot as we crown the year. The importance of reading-at least the gospel of the day in this time cannot be over emphasised. In the Catholic Church these are readily provided for each day. Therefore, family prayers don’t have to be long, you can spice the meditation with an Advent hymn. Set up a Nativity scene in stages.
St. Francis of Assisi is credited for setting up the first live nativity scene in 1223 featuring Mary, Joseph and the shepherds. Instead of setting up and decorating the stable in one day, start it during Advent, then gradually add pieces. Joseph and Mary are set across the room and are moved closer on their journey to the stable each day after family devotions.
This means the wise men and shepherds reach the stable after Christmas. This is the best way to illustrate the nativity story to children and youth. The intention is not just beauty but learning through participation.
Delaying Christmas decorations until the end of Advent season is what will bring out the real importance of Jesus’ birth. Let’s not rush into Christmas overlooking the importance or meaning of Advent, but make it fun. Food has natural and spiritual nurturing properties, enjoy it together! Plan to enjoy a special traditional meal while sharing stories to build a sense of belonging. Keep it small, but give it the importance it deserves.
According to a finding by National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, New York, children whose families eat together at least five times a week had a lower risk of developing weight problems, poor nutrition, alcohol and substance abuse addictions, and performed better academically than their peers who eat alone or away from home.
Both young and old have therefore reported increase in depression, addiction and low emotional intelligence this year. Advent is therefore a good time to wean off stress through a traditional delicacy. Alternate the choices of food and cook together with each member participating.
Read an Advent serial together and if possible, act it out. The book you pick will depend on how old your children are and how advent has been celebrated before. Some books designed purposely for this season even include game activities and crafts, if that’s your thing.
Replace the normal bedtime story with an Advent serial. If reading is not yet a habit, then the version should be simpler not to kill morale and the reader may be only one for other members not to feel the burden. If reading is the norm, then acting it will flavour the season and not make it feel like the old way of reading. The purpose is to have them drawn to Christ in simple and clear ways.
Celebrate Christmas by incorporating all family member birthdays in that of Christ’s. Bake a cake together, put Christ’s name in the center, then surround it with other family names even if their birthdays were already celebrated. Christ’s birthday crowns it all. Christmas becomes an experience to be lived and worth remembering, not just an event.
Remember those in need that’s to say neighbours. There are lonely people near and around us all the time. Check in your neighbourhood, parish or other parts of your life for people in need of a shoulder to lean on. With the ministry of health standard operating procedures, it can still be safe amidst the pandemic; interest the young people to it.
Make a Jesse tree. This would detail events in the Old and New Testament, leading to the birth of Christ like; the call of Abraham and Noah’s ark among others. Walking through the journey, this can be assimilated to their own birth, then connected to Easter when the season comes. Just like Jesus has a genealogy, teenager and older youth can be encouraged to develop their own genealogy trees.
The pandemic has impacted immensely on religion and faith in different ways. Without the community realising it, young people’s faith is deteriorating day by day Worldwide. With a second wave being speculated, ‘we’ parents and guardians should embrace the role of nurturing faith in the young generation and not allow the pandemic to destroy it.
By Joseline Byakatonda
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